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PARCC is Crap, Literally

Posted by Mary Webb on March 17, 2015 at 7:30 PM

Please tell me you you’ve noticed that PARCC is crap spelled backwards? With a double “c” for emphasis?

Well, it’s not lost on me that it is lost on the powers that be. This acronym aside, the test itself ranks in the same manner.

Now, let me just say that I still agree with Common Core, at least as it relates to English Language Arts. So, save yourself the time and stop reading if you thought that’s where I was going with this, because I’m all for rigor in our curriculum. But, PARCC does a few extra things that make me wonder they were ever allowed.

The first thing is the timing of tests. I’ve witnessed kids falling asleep during standardized tests and opting to “just do it on the make-up day”, so I can’t say that I’m totally against the tests being timed. I do, however, disagree with the limited amount of time given. I’m talking 75-90 minutes to read 2-3 passages, answer several questions that each have a Part A and a Part B, plan an essay, and then finally write one. Sure, kids are doing it because, what other choice do they have? But, are they doing it well? The only cases where accuracy and speed have ever mattered equally were typing classes and 100-yard dashes. Neither lend themselves to academia. So, the state needs to decide if they want students to be quick or right. I mean they were the ones who told teachers to stop racing to get through the textbook, and instead, slow down to reteach until kids had mastered it. You can’t have it both ways.

Second, remember I’m a writer when I tell you what I’m about to tell you, and I made my students write long before testing started moving in that direction. So, you should believe me when I say three essays in three days is TOO MUCH!!!!!! Hell, a well-written and thoughtful essay should take three days if we want them to brainstorm, draft, revise, edit and, then, produce a final essay. Oh, but it seems, the writing process is just another thing we’ve taught them for which they won’t be fairly assessed.

Speaking of which, anybody remember the pains we went to to get students to use a dictionary to check their spelling or a thesaurus to come up with a more sophisticated synonym for “good”, “mad”, and “sad”? All in vain, my friends, all in vain, because those resources are not allowed for testing. That might be okay for the second phase when students are being asked to use context clues to determine the meaning of a word, but it should have been permitted during the writing portion of the test. After all, isn’t this test about students’ knowledge as much as it is about their ability to figure out even what they don’t know?

Finally, in looking at the practice tests at several grade levels, there were many times I was stumped myself. The answer choices were, in my opinion, sometimes, poorly worded as if they were meant to trick a tester or they were too similar to reasonably eliminate the inaccurate response. I’m a college-educated English teacher who is currently working on her advanced degree, so if it made me second-guess myself, it probably won’t bode well for middle school students either.

As it relates to math (as part of a professional development session, I took a 3rd grade practice test), I didn’t do as bad as I would have thought with it being math, even if it was only 3rd grade math. But, I could still see how the written explanation of their work would be a problem. Besides, what has any math teacher spent her life begging kids to show their work for, if they’re still going to have to turn around and say what they did? It’s counterintuitive if you ask me. And remember, these will be timed as well. Seems like that time would be better served giving students a few extra problems to work out.

The main problem I have with the test, though, is its potential to be demoralizing to a child. I can see a bunch of my students who I know know the material, but who might not pass the test for any of the reasons I outlined. How are they going to feel when they’ve been busting their butts all year, and they get the results they may? And to be honest, I’m really thinking of one child in particular – my own. The struggle is real for him, but for the most part, Quentin works hard. But, I suspect he might not perform acceptably. I’m not wishing this on him. I’m not even speaking from a parental point of view, but a professional one.

That’s why two Saturday classes ago, I sat up straight and listened to this avenue I hadn’t known about before – opting out. This year, parents had the right to have their child not take the PARCC test, I guess as kinks were worked out. I thought long and hard about doing this because, otherwise, it feels like sacrificing him to the wolves. Quentin already has too many things working against him as it is. I resent being another one, or at least, participating in another case of this.

In the end, I only didn’t because to do so would be a shot in the foot for my school’s performance scores. Every child who doesn’t take the PARCC test earns a zero for their school. We work too hard as educators, period, but educators with our clientele of kids, specifically, to cause sabotage to what we’re doing in that building on Carrollton Avenue. Besides, fifth-grade isn’t a high-stakes testing year for Quentin. If he passes, it’ll be a lesson for him in hard and perseverance. If he doesn’t, we’ll know what we need to work on in the coming years, as PARCC doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

 

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